A Beer Sommelier's Irish Picks

Greg Engert, a restaurant beer director, shares his favorite Irish and Irish-style brews.

IRISH RED ALE:

TRADITIONAL: SMITHWICK'S
Irish Red Ales are really just a variation on the English Bitters that have long been so popular in the British Isles; their distinction lies in that they are far less hoppy. Rather than using Crystal malt -- which gives English Bitters a fuller body and a touch of caramel sweetness -- Irish Red Ales, perhaps in a nod to their more popular countryman (the Irish Dry Stout), utilize a bit of roasted unmalted barley for a hint of cocoa. Irish Red Ales, typified by Smithwick's, have become well known for a number of reasons. They provide the perfect brew for drinkers looking for middle ground, those seeking something neither too light nor too dark. They are indeed amber-hued and rather clean and refreshing, and thus quite approachable. A hint of fruit in the nose from the ale yeast's fermentation adds a layer of inviting complexity as well. Smithwick's no doubt gained traction in the 1960s when Guinness purchased a controlling stake in the brewery; following this, Smithwick's has accompanied the black stuff all over the world.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: GREAT LAKES CONWAY'S IRISH ALE
Though some doubt the actual existence of the Irish Red Ale as a style, the popularity of such ales as Murphy's Irish Red, Kilkenny, Caffrey's and Smithwick's has proven the viability of these crisp, mildly malty, slightly fruity and semi-dry beers. When Patrick and Daniel Conway, two Americans of Irish descent, opened Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1988, it was most likely inevitable that they would one day pay homage to their heritage with their own version of the style. They had opened Ohio's first microbrewery, and the first brewery in Cleveland since the early 1980s, and proceeded to offer craft-brewed takes on classic brewing styles. Soon they were brewing Conway's Irish Ale for the Springtime, and including a picture of the founders' grandfather on the label: Patrick Conway had been a Cleveland policeman for 25 years and had directed traffic near where the brewery now stands. This Irish Red is more intense across the board than the traditional Irish versions. It is stronger at 6.5% abv than Smithwick's (at 4.5%), and offers a fuller-bodied flavor exemplified by toasty notes, as well as a drier finish and a bit of herbal-floral aromatic from the use of more hops.

MORE NOTABLE RED ALES:

TRADITIONAL: O'HARA'S IRISH RED (IRELAND); MURPHY'S IRISH RED ALE (IRELAND)

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: HARPOON CELTIC ALE (MASSACHUSETTS); MOYLAN'S IRISH-STYLE RED ALE (CALIFORNIA)

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